How to Keep a Secret Online

....or: How to Protect Your Family's Privacy Online (or Your Business, or Literally Anything Else!)

It's 2015 and we need a guide that tells us how to keep our private information... well, private!  If you don't understand how much of a problem privacy is online these days, head over to people search engine, PeekYou, and see what data is available free for your name ( ) ...don't worry, well wait.  (Alternately, try ).

Quick!  Before installing any of the other software listed below, use this tool first!!!

A few simple tips can help you stay safe online:

  1. HTTPS, Everywhere! - HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP (an Internet communications protocol).  By installing the free browser add-on, HTTPS Everywhere, you can add some basic encryption to your browsing activities.  Bear in mind that this is basic stuff, so it won't secure you against being tracked by your government or law enforcement agents.  The fact that HTTPS is basic and yet still not the default for browser security says a lot about why this article is necessary.  Using HTTPS instead of HTTP at the beginning of some URLs, and in particular RSS feeds, can cause some sites to be inaccessible.  This is rare though, so if it happens, just erase the extra "s" at the end of HTTP in your URL and try loading the site again (insecurely).
  2. One and Done - Don't link your accounts together!  Many websites will offer you the
    You're wondering why I used flowers here...
    if I had used a software photo, would it have helped?
    opportunity to log in with a social media account, such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and others.  Resist the temptation to do so.  Linking accounts together often leads to information leakage wherein the web service you're using gets a back door to the private information in your social media profile.  Exception: The exception here is if you create a fake, decoy Facebook or Gmail account specifically to use as a login for other websites... but even this tactic can backfire as these websites may trade and compile information about your browsing habits that they've collected without your knowledge.
  3. Use a Pseudonym - Legal authorities have previously affirmed the use of pseudonyms (false names or nom de plumes) online as legal and permissible in the United States.  In fact, many websites advise that this is the safest way for children to use the Internet!  The caveat here is that you will always be on the wrong side of the law when committing a crime or harassing or intimidating someone, even when you use a pseudonym.  Some social networks like Facebook and Google+ do not support the use of fake names, but frankly, they aren't going to come to your rescue if you are harassed or stalked online under your real name so you may want to weigh how much you care for their opinions in that matter.
  4. Throw Away (Don't Recycle!) - Unlike in life, you want your actions online to be as disposable as possible.  When you need to read a news article just once, don't create a new account for yourself, instead create a one-off disposable account using a disposable email address.  Disposable email addresses are available at , , and , among others.
  5. Go Incognito! - Chrome has Incognito Mode, Internet Explorer has InPrivate Browsing, and nearly every other browser has some mode you can access where privacy is the priority.  Use these modes frequently.  They won't keep you from getting caught if you're doing something nefarious online, but they can help prevent advertising companies from building massive, invasive profiles which track your online activities.  Some tips are private browsing are available here:  -- If in doubt, search online for the method to enter your preferred browser's private mode (don't forget to do it on your phone too!).
  6. Extensions, Extensions, Extensions - Extensions, or software designed to extend your

    Also good for privacy, turn off the computer and
    climb El Capitan.
    browser's capabilities, are a double-edged sword.  Software like AdBlock Plus can prevent tens of thousands of advertisers from getting at your personal information, but you'll have to trust the extension's manufacturer with your browsing data.  If it helps, many Americans do just that every day.  You can of course buy similar privacy add-ons from anti-virus manufacturers if it makes you more comfortable, but my preferred privacy add-ons are AdBlock Plus and, lately PrivacyBadger.  Also, don't forget to install SpyBot Search and Destroy (Free Edition) and run the Immunizer function.  Exception: If you install one of these extensions, you will eventually run into a website that it does not work with.  If one of your commonly used websites is not working after installing the software, you'll need to try disabling the software for that website.  Online help forums can often assist with this.
  7. Just Opt-Out - There is an online advertising opt-out tool.  You should use that first on all of your computers.  Use it before installing any of the other tools.  That page is located here:
  8. Don't Miss the Obvious - There are some really powerful tips in this guide, the sort of things that dissidents and foreign governments use to keep their secrets, but none of this replaces common sense: You don't have to keep your social networks under your real name (covered above) and even if you do, you can max out your privacy settings.  By the way, I haven't linked an article here about social networking privacy settings because they change so frequently.  I recommend searching for a guide written in the past year on Google or Bing.  Anything I write in that regard will quickly become outdated.  -- If you share photos online, keep them private for Friends only.  Consider doing the same for your Facebook timeline, your Twitter, your Tumblr, Instagram, and other accounts.
  9. Never Use Your Phone, But... Always Use Your Phone - Your cellphone is a powerful tool.  For privacy, do not link your cellphone to your Facebook or other social networking, as this provides a verifiable link to your real identity (not to mention putting confidential information from your phone into your online account and vice versa!).  Many of you will decide that adding your phone to your Facebook is a necessary evil, worth doing for the advantage of having Facebook on your phone.  That's fine, but, you've been warned.  On the other hand, always add your cellphone as a means of "dual-factor authentication" where available (Facebook, Twitter, your banking site).  It is possible to use your phone for dual-factor authentication, meaning that no one can log into your Facebook without physically having your phone, but to not have Facebook on your phone for updating.  As time progresses, it will be possible to use a USB drive as your second authentication factor, rather than your cellphone, which is highly recommended as soon as it becomes an option.

...and one final rule, a rule so important that it doesn't even get a number... The Golden Rule of the Internet:  If you don't want your grandmother to read about it on Facebook... Don't Put It On The Internet!  It doesn't matter how careful you are, how much you trust the person you're emailing, or how much you think you stand to gain, if you absolutely have to keep something a secret, do not put it on the Internet.  What would your grandmother say?

Speaking of opt-outs... if way back in the beginning of the article you found yourself listed on Spokeo or PeekYou, fear not!  Most online directory websites have some form of opt-out.  That, however, is a matter for a separate article.

Do you want to read more above privacy?  Would you like to hear terrible stories of businesses posting their private documents to the Internet because they were careless?  If so, do we have the article series for you!  Here's how to read someone else's email addressbook, or you could find out how to view someone's hard drive.  Stay safe out there!

Christopher Lotito is an expert in Competitive Intelligence working in the Healthcare industry.  He holds an MBA in Healthcare Management and teaches a course in Healthcare Competitive Intelligence.  Got an opportunity?  Looking for a collaboration?  Drop him a line.  Questions welcome!

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